Great Britain’s last two winter Olympic Games campaigns – in Sochi and Pyeongchang – have yielded five medals each: an all-time joint record for a British team.
For a nation which doesn’t enjoy the conditions – and therefore have the facilities – normally associated with producing winter sport medallists, it’s an impressive return.
One of those five medals in Pyeongchang was won by Dom Parsons, who took bronze in the men’s skeleton event. Here, he explains how the increased recent levels of success in British winter sport means that athletes heading to Beijing can have the confidence to compete with those from more traditional winter powerhouses.
“As a child I never thought of myself as sporty, and spent more time interested in models and gadgets than watching or playing sport. As I grew older, I started to find my way into the school sports teams, and then the county teams. I was drawn into the rugby and athletics worlds – where I was competent, but not excellent.
“For me the opportunity to try out for skeleton came out of the blue, just through meeting the right people at the right time. I came in as a pimply student who’d never been anywhere colder than Yorkshire. I’d heard of the Olympic successes of Alex Coomber and Shelley Rudman, but those dizzying heights seemed well beyond me.
“Whilst I was trying to find my feet in the sport, the accolades for British athletes kept growing: bucketfuls of World Cup medals, Kristan Bromley winning the 2008 World Championships, and of course Amy Williams winning gold in the 2010 Olympics. Those athletes still seemed like a different breed to me, they were hoofing it out with the best in the world, whilst I was negotiating with walls of ice about how big my bruises should be.
“Despite the initial beatings it gave me, I fell in love with skeleton. My obsession with details and insistence on understanding how things work gradually helped me to slide like a slider. At the next Winter Olympics, Sochi 2014, the skeleton team had an all-star line-up of Kristan, Lizzy Yarnold and Shelley. Plus me, as the other guy.
“Sochi was a record-breaking Games for Team GB, and I could see first-hand that our fantastic medallists weren’t a different species after all, just normal people. Insanely talented normal people.
“Four years later, at Pyeongchang 2018, we had another record-breaking medal haul (later equalled by the previous Games when the bobsleigh team was retrospectively awarded bronze), with three of those medals coming from skeleton. It was quite staggering to see the effect it had on both general public (I saw so many videos of kids zooming head-first down snowy slopes) and the younger generation of athletes who’d been watching back home.
“The secret to our success? I can only speak for skeleton, but I think it was our preparedness. Competing in an Olympic Games is a unique experience and the pressure of competing on such a big stage often affects competitors. Knowing that we were coming into the event with every detail covered gave us a huge psychological advantage.
“I know how hard the people at the BOA and in NGBs work to maintain that high level of preparedness for their athletes, so all the athletes need to do is focus on their performance and trust themselves.”